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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Homeland Leaders to Watch: FEMA’s Amy Angelovic Leans in with Continuity

Parents always leave an impression on their children and there is little doubt about the impression and inspiration that drive FEMA’s Amy Angelovic. Growing up in downstate Illinois, she saw her father head out the door on any number of occasions to answer the call of neighbors in need. His service as a volunteer firefighter and later as a local fire chief would spark a passion to look out for others even in midst of her studies at the University of Illinois. At the same time Amy was working on her bachelor’s in political science, she started to work at the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

But after a spending a semester in D.C. she caught “Potomac fever” and made her way to the nation’s capital, where she started her career at FEMA as an administrative assistant while also working on her master’s in security studies at Georgetown. Building on her time at FEMA, followed by some time in the private sector, Angelovic started to refine her interests, skills and expertise for working continuity issues.

For anyone who has never worked continuity issues, it is hard to underestimate their complexity in terms of “turf,” roles and responsibilities by any number of people, parties and organizations that all think “they’re in charge.” But navigating all of those policy challenges is just one of the many reasons her boss, John Veatch, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for National Continuity Programs, has called her “the future of FEMA!” He became an even bigger champion of hers following her work and co-authorship of the recently issued Continuity Guidance Circular.

Today, Amy Angelovic serves as director of the Policy, Plans, and Evaluation Division, which is part of FEMA’s National Continuity Programs office.

HSToday’s Editor at Large Rich Cooper recently spoke with Amy about her role at FEMA, the purpose behind the Continuity Guidance Circular, exercising continuity programs, and the inspirations that brought her to serve FEMA and the nation’s homeland security community.

HSToday: What brought you to FEMA and its mission?

ANGELOVIC: My dad was a volunteer firefighter and ultimately the fire chief when I was growing up, and it was something that made an impact on me and played a big role in my family and childhood. I grew up in a small town in Illinois of 800 people, and it really was a family atmosphere and people helping their community. The fellow firefighters were the parents of my friends. The department had annual picnics; we rode in the fire trucks at the annual town homecoming. When I was growing up, our town wasn’t part of a 911 system, so calls to the fire department rang at a few houses in town, including ours. We had a red phone in the closet with a sign above it telling people to not answer the phone under any circumstances. If it rang, my mom would answer, take down the information, and then send the alert over a radio scanner to the volunteer firefighters in town and start the town siren.

I worked at the Illinois Fire Service Institute when I was in college at the University of Illinois, working as a Curriculum Design Assistant for their Hazardous Materials and Counterterrorism program. That’s when I realized emergency management was a career path I could follow. I had spent a semester working as an intern in Washington, D.C., and knew I wanted to work there after I graduated, so FEMA seemed like a great fit.

HSToday: Was there a particular experience or event that attracted you to this particular mission?

ANGELOVIC: I ended up in Continuity Planning and Programs by accident. I applied for quite a few jobs at FEMA before graduating college, and Continuity gave me a telephone interview and ultimately offered me a job. I was lucky in that it’s a subject matter that is really interesting and important. In my current role, I am the director for the Policy, Plans, and Evaluation Division in FEMA’s National Continuity Programs. So I get to participate in a wide scope of activities, including things like continuity policy development, exercise planning, and overseeing our continuity training program. It still challenges me every day.

HSToday: What has been your biggest surprise in this current role?

ANGELOVIC: One of the things that continues to amaze me are the people whom I meet through this role. I get to work with a lot of different stakeholder groups, and I’ve met so many dedicated, amazing people. During the revision of the Continuity Guidance Circular, I was able to work with a great group of folks that were remarkable in their enthusiasm and commitment. All believed in the work they were doing and are really making a difference for their citizens, employees, and leadership. Similarly, I work with a great group of colleagues who continually challenge me, but also support me. I owe so much to those people I can reach out to with questions or to bounce ideas off. I consider myself very lucky to work with and alongside the people I have met over the years.

HSToday: What is the Continuity Guidance Circular?

ANGELOVIC: The Continuity Guidance Circular provides guidance for the whole community, which includes governments at all levels – federal, state, territorial, tribal, and local – and non-governmental organizations, including the private sector, to assist these stakeholders in developing and maintaining continuity plans and programs. It serves as a resource for these partners to integrate and coordinate continuity efforts and, ultimately, create a more prepared and resilient nation.

HSToday: What’s the driver behind this document? Why do we need it?

ANGELOVIC: Every single day, individuals, organizations, communities, and governments provide critical services and perform essential functions that their neighbors and the public depend on. Continuity ensures that we plan for sustaining these services and functions when normal operations are disrupted, as organizations and governments can be affected by the same incident affecting the public. Continuity planning helps ensure we are able to support individuals in need.

This version of the CGC replaces the 2013 version, and we led a whole community effort to review and revise the CGC to create something that is useful, applicable, and effective. The CGC addresses the needs, capabilities, and gaps of organizations and identifies and incorporates best practices and lessons learned of federal and non-federal organizations.

HSToday: What role does the private sector play with continuity guidance and how should we measure our performance?

ANGELOVIC: National preparedness and sustainment of essential functions is a shared responsibility of the whole community, including the private sector. The private sector is a key partner, performs essential functions, and provides critical services that are important to communities and the nation. Some businesses play an essential role in protecting critical infrastructure and implementing plans to rapidly re-establish normal commercial activities and critical infrastructure operations following a disruption, such as power and communications.

HSToday: Does the circular address the often toughest of questions – who’s in charge during an emergency?

ANGELOVIC: Continuity aims to assist organizations and governments in planning to ensure someone is always in charge and that information is communicated. The circular talks about orders of succession and delegations of authority. Orders of succession are formal, sequential listings of positions that identify who is authorized to assume a particular leadership or management role. Delegations of authority are related to, but distinct from, orders of succession. A written delegation of authority provides the recipients with the legal authorization to act on behalf of the organization head or other officials for specified purposes and to carry out specific duties.

It’s important to think about and plan for these aspects before an emergency occurs. Individuals filling positions in the lines of succession or who are delegated authorities need training to ensure they are familiar with their roles and responsibilities and know the procedures and triggers. An organization needs a communications plan to inform other leaders, members of the organization, and external stakeholders of the change in leadership. If an organization or government doesn’t practice these procedures through testing, training, and exercising, it is at a disadvantage in an emergency when they are needed.

HSToday: How did the experiences that FEMA had with Harvey in Texas, Maria in Puerto Rico and the fires in Southern California shape this document?

ANGELOVIC: The disasters of 2017 really demonstrated the need for continuity at all levels and how we are all dependent upon one another to be able to provide the services that stakeholders and the public rely on. For example, disasters are local events, and if the state, local, tribal, or territorial government response capacity is disrupted, that also impacts the effectiveness of the federal response. Increasing resilience through continuity preparedness efforts better postures partners to better coordinate and prioritize preliminary damage assessment and response operations.

Those 2017 disasters also exemplified the reliance on critical infrastructure, particularly communications and power. As continuity planners, we must incorporate contingency plans and systems, such as satellite phones, land mobile radio, face-to-face meetings, and paper processes, into continuity plans. Lastly, the 2017 disasters reminded us that in a catastrophic emergency, personnel are likely to be disaster survivors, too, and may be unable to fulfill roles and responsibilities. Organizations should plan for how they will continue services and functions if their staff are unable to fulfill their usual duties.

HSToday: A real emergency or disaster will always exercise continuity of operations, but how effectively can we exercise continuity before an unfortunate event like that occurs?

ANGELOVIC: One point FEMA emphasizes is that organizations need to integrate continuity into daily operations. Continuity is truly successful when it’s second nature and is already included in existing plans and procedures. For example, if an organization reaches the life cycle end of its desktop computers, including continuity as a consideration may mean the organization chooses to replace its desktop computers with laptops to promote a more mobile and flexible workforce. Also, I would encourage organizations to find ways to incorporate continuity into every exercise conducted. It can be something simple, like checking access to backup records, or more complex, like executing the orders of succession. But simple exercises improve readiness and may allow for continual, effective exercising of continuity processes, outside of large, functional continuity-focused exercises.

FEMA has also developed the Continuity Assessment Tool, which is a resource for organizations and jurisdictions to assess their continuity plan and program against the requirements for a viable continuity program and plan as outlined in the Continuity Guidance Circular. The tool assists organizations and communities in identifying areas of strength, areas for improvement, best practices, and lessons learned. The tool is divided into three sections, corresponding to the three chapters of the CGC – Getting Started, Building a Capability, and Maintaining a Capability – and includes supporting tasks that are further divided according to the five solution areas found within the Stakeholder Preparedness Report: planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise (POETE).

HSToday: What is Eagle Horizon about?

ANGELOVIC: Eagle Horizon is an annual exercise that aims to validate Federal Executive Branch continuity plans, processes, and strategies. As part of the exercise, FEMA evaluates Federal Executive Branch Departments’ and Agencies’ performance of essential functions that are critical to support of specified National Essential Functions. These functions together represent the ability to lead and sustain the nation during a crisis and are the primary focus of leadership during and immediately following an incident.

This exercise has undergone a paradigm shift in the past year, as FEMA is driving change to the approach and evaluation process as we move away from checking program management and requirements to place a greater emphasis on the execution of specific essential functions in a continuity environment. So it’s a great opportunity to be involved in the continued evolution of this exercise.

HSToday: How can companies or organizations get involved with that exercise?

ANGELOVIC: This year, Eagle Horizon was fully integrated into National Level Exercise (NLE) 2018. NLE 2018 will examine the ability of all levels of government, private industry, and nongovernmental organizations to protect against, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane. Private sector and critical infrastructure owners/operators are actively engaged in functional play, as a part of the overarching exercise. Companies and community organizations are also leveraging the NLE as a chance to engage employees and customers on preparedness.

Although planning for future-year exercises is just beginning, including companies and organizations in exercise planning and conduct is welcomed. As the Continuity Guidance Circular outlines, the whole community directly contributes to the resiliency of the nation and the ability to continue essential functions and services. As FEMA looks to implement this vision, the coordinated testing and exercising of continuity plans by the whole community becomes increasingly important.

HSToday: If you could talk directly to America’s business leaders, what would you say to them about continuity and their role in it?

ANGELOVIC: Every day public sector agencies and members of a community depend on the private sector and the resources they provide. Continuity planning takes into account the interconnected nature of those relationships and requires a whole community approach to create a more prepared and resilient nation. I encourage you to get involved in government and community planning efforts and integrate continuity plans so that together, we ensure the continuation of vital functions and services.  From experience, if everyone comes to the table and participates in the planning process, it not only results in a better, more comprehensive product, but helps government and communities understand what the private sector needs to get back up and running after an incident, and, in turn, provides the private sector a better insight into the needs of communities and people which they serve.

Businesses in general are the thought leaders when it comes to continuity and often have many of the best practices and lessons learned. The government can learn from business and I would love to better strengthen those partnerships and welcome any ideas, information, and suggestions you can share.

HSToday: Does technology enhance our abilities to maintain community continuity or has it become a crutch that has left us too dependent on it and thereby not as self-sufficient as we should be to maintain order in a risk-filled world?

ANGELOVIC: Continuity is an evolving field, and I think a lot of that comes down to technology. We have come a long way from the days of requiring alternate sites that have desktop computers mapped exactly as the computers at the normal location. The use of laptops and cell phones means we can work almost anywhere and has added flexibility and options to our plans and processes.

But technology has also made us vulnerable to new threats, such as cyber-attacks. We are also much more interdependent as a society, including our reliance on critical infrastructure, which requires an integrated, coordinated planning effort.

Ultimately, I think technology is a good thing. But we need to ensure we are considering the new threat environment and updating our planning and assumptions. We can’t simply assume we would have to activate our continuity plan because the facility is unavailable. We must also consider and plan for how we would continue functions and services following a cyber-attack that eliminates access to the public switch network, internet service, records, and systems. It’s not an easy problem to solve.

HSToday: What do you hope happens as a result of your work on the CGC project and Eagle Horizon exercises?

ANGELOVIC: As part of the Continuity Guidance Circular development, FEMA conducted and participated in an advisory session with whole community stakeholders to obtain input on key themes in the circular. During one of the final discussions, one of the participants asked, “How do we build upon this momentum to create a movement?”

The circular outlines a vision of “a more resilient nation through whole community integration of continuity plans and programs to sustain essential functions under all conditions.” I would love to see the momentum around continuity planning and exercising become a movement among the whole community to achieve this vision. I’d love to see people excited about continuity and engaged, because they recognize the important role they play in their community and government, and realize that when operations are disrupted, it’s likely when they are needed the most to provide those important services.

HSToday: Who is the leader that inspires you the most in your career and why?

ANGELOVIC: The two leaders that inspire me the most in my career are my parents. Every day I hope I can be as considerate, kind, and selfless as they are and have been my entire life.

In a professional capacity, one book that made a great impact on me and how I manage my career is “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. As emergency managers, we are constantly taught to think about the “what if?” to help guide our planning efforts. In a professional capacity, though, “what ifs” can paralyze us and our careers. I can think of several times in the past year where I reminded myself of her refrain, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Her messages in the book are something I find myself reading and re-reading, considering, and implementing.

author avatar
Rich Cooper
Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.
Rich Cooper
Rich Cooper
Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

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